Monday, April 1, 2013

Chapter Thirty-Three


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 69,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1991. All rights reserved.

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At the time, I had thought my secret meetings with Roy Stonerow, where he taught me rudimentary magic and gave me a different vision of the universe, were just that—secret. But now I can’t help but wonder if Otis and my mother might have had some inkling of what I was up to. With the benefit of adult hindsight, it is difficult to believe a young teenage boy could have kept such a thing hidden from his parents in such a small town. But I still like to think they were ignorant, especially my mother. Even now I am just beginning to realize the kind of pain she must have felt knowing what her son was doing in that little red house down the street. I guess I will never know if she knew or not, but I have to say I did not do what I did, I did not learn what I learned, out of any kind of spite for the way of life she offered me. It is a good way, her life, and for thousands it is all they will ever need, but it was not for me. I am not proud of this, but neither am I ashamed.

+   +   +

Brisbane followed the back of the black-clad ork down a short, dark hallway with Ternosh and Wister right behind him. The procession marched on in silence and shortly they emerged in another large chamber lit by the flickering light of torches.

How do they keep all these torches lit? Brisbane wondered briefly. And where is all the smoke? These things are burning constantly and none of these rooms are smoky.

Brisbane’s wonderment about the torches did not last long. His attention was quickly captured by the shape and contents of the chamber before him. It was circular, nearly as huge as the banquet chamber, and in the center of the room was a pit, an arena that dropped ten feet below the floor of the chamber with no visible means of entrance or exit. The floor just suddenly gave way and dropped straight down to the circular pit. All around the pit, the pug-trolang which it had to be, were stone benches like the ones surrounding the table in the banquet chamber, except in two places. If the pit was the face of a clock, at six o’clock sat a stone chair and at twelve o’clock stood a stone pedestal. On the pedestal was a golden incense burner like the one Ternosh had used to summon his Demosk.

And, leaning against the face of the pedestal, scabbarded and point down on the edge of the pug-trolang, was Angelika, her emerald twinkling in the torchlight.

Brisbane’s heart rose into his throat as he saw her. Angelika! his mind called out to her. I have found you!

Be patient, was her only reply. Be patient and be strong.

The black-clad orks quickly went ahead and took their seats around the pit. Ternosh held Brisbane back and Wister stood solidly beside Tornestor. The Sumak gestured to the outer wall of the circular chamber and Brisbane saw it was lined with racks of weapons, red-eye shields, and black armor.

“Grum Wister and Grum Brisbane,” Tornestor said. “These are the finest weapons and armor of the clan. Choose well and may they serve you well in the pug-trolang.”

Wister immediately went to the wall and began to put on a chainmail vest that had been hanging there. Brisbane turned to Tornestor.

“Sumak Tornestor,” he said, summoning as much respect as he could into his voice. “Am I to understand I may arm myself with any weapon here?”

Tornestor looked at Brisbane with a look mixed of surprise and contempt. “You are unfamiliar with our ways,” the Sumak said. “You are not to speak to me unless I speak to you first. I will forget your indiscretion this time. Yes, the choice of weapon is yours.”

Brisbane bowed his head. “I am sorry for misspeaking.” He brought his head up and pointed at Angelika. “May I use that sword?”

Wister was picking out a shield.

Tornestor looked at the sword and then turned back to Brisbane. “No,” he said. “That weapon bares an enchantment upon it and it has been given as a gift to Gruumsh One-Eye. No one may use it.”

Of course you can’t use her, Brisbane told himself. That would have been too easy. He quickly bowed again and backed away from the Sumak.

Tornestor began to discuss something with Ternosh and Brisbane was left alone to arm himself. He looked back at Wister and saw the ork had chosen a huge battle axe to fight with. Brisbane turned back to the weapons.

Angelika, he thought. They won’t let me use you. What should I do?

Patience, young Brisbane. You will wield me soon enough. You can defeat this evil creature without me. These demons think they can control you and me, but they cannot. Our time will come.

Demons? Brisbane thought.

They are abominations of nature, Brisbane. They must be destroyed.

Brisbane began to look through the pieces of armor, searching for something that would protect him and yet not hamper his movements. He found a chainmail shirt, much like the vest Wister had chosen, and after removing his cumbersome red and white robes, he put it on over the simple cloth shirt and pants he wore underneath. The stiff material under the chains of the armor was black.

Abominations, Angelika?

Abominations, Brisbane. Twisted creatures of evil born against the will of Grecolus. They must be destroyed.

Angelika’s voice was like an itch in his head. Brisbane blindly picked a round red-eye shield off the wall and began to examine a rack full of all sorts of swords.

Choose well, young Brisbane. Even in this den of evil there are some blades of quality. You’ll need something sharp and sturdy to gut this devil.

Brisbane picked up a sword and swung it experimentally through the air. Its balance was too far off so he returned it to the rack. He chose another and, liking the feel of this one, tested its sharpness against the heel of his head. The weapon was double-edged and had been recently sharpened and oiled. Whoever it had belonged to before the orks got hold of it had taken good care of it.

A fine weapon, Brisbane. More than enough to spill evil blood.

Brisbane, oblivious to his surroundings, began to take the sword through the combat exercises Roundtower had taught him so long ago. He whirled it through striking thrusts and defensive postures, getting into the feel of the blade. It felt good in his hands and Brisbane began to speed up the execution of his exercises.

Yes, Brisbane. That’s the way. You and the sword. You are one.

Brisbane finished, bringing the blade to his side as if he had a scabbard to put it in. He suddenly became aware of where he was and he looked stiffly up at the orks watching him. Ternosh had left, but both Tornestor and Wister were there, their eyes betraying a certain amazement they felt for what they had just seen.

Brisbane met Wister’s red eyes. “Let’s do it.”

Wister actually smiled at Brisbane and then started off in the direction of the pug-trolang. Brisbane fell into step behind him and Tornestor followed the human.

When they arrived at the edge of the pit, Tornestor took the seat that had been placed there for him and Wister and Brisbane dropped themselves down into the battle circle. They took positions about ten feet apart, facing each other, and stood still waiting for the command to begin.

Brisbane looked up at the edge of the pit and at the orkish faces looking down on him. The black-clad orks sat evenly spaced around the circle, and the two with red stripes sat on either side of the Sumak as they had at dinner. Brisbane was surprised to see Ternosh standing next to the pedestal—and Angelika—with his hands clasped behind his back. Brisbane turned back to Wister and found himself in the middle of an angry staring match.

A hush fell over the proceedings as Tornestor rose to his full seven feet. “The klatru of the Clan of the Red Eye,” he announced formally, “has gathered here around the pug-trolang to witness a masokom between our brothers as described in the ancient ways. At my signal, Grum Wister and Grum Brisbane was clash in battle that will not stop until one of them is dead and gone on to Gruumsh’s battlefield.”

“Praise be to the victor,” the assemblage chanted as one. “And strength to the loser in his new conflict.”

“Grumak Ternosh,” Tornestor said. “Summon your Demosk to witness the masokom.”

Tornestor sat and Ternosh lifted the lid off the incense burner. The Grumak waved his hand over it and Brisbane saw a spark jump off one of his fingers and fall into the golden vessel.

He’s summoning his Demosk, Brisbane thought as Wister’s eyes bore into him. Super. That smoke is going to make us all loopy. I’ll be lucky just to see Wister, to say nothing about killing him.

He is not your match, Brisbane. None of them are.

Brisbane looked up to see Angelika but his eyes were drawn to the smoke already pouring out of the five-pointed vents in the lid of the incense burner. Ternosh began his eerie chanting and Brisbane turned back to his opponent.

Wister stood taut, like a dog on a chain, and as the white smoke began to swirl around him, Brisbane thought the ork began to look more and more like a dog. His pig snout became a furry muzzle and his pig ears flopped down like those of a lap dog. The vision was fleeting and sporadic, as most of the smoke stayed well above the floor of the pug-trolang. Every once and a while, a wisp would blow in front of Brisbane, smelling thickly of oranges, distorting Wister from an armored pig-man to an armored dog-man. For a gleeful moment, Brisbane tried to decide which vision was uglier.

Brisbane decided it would be best not to take his eyes off Wister again. There was no telling exactly when Tornestor’s order to commence combat would come, but Brisbane knew when it did, Wister would be on him like all the fury in the hells. To his right, Where Ternosh and the pedestal—and Angelika—were, he heard a familiar voice.

“Why have you summoned me, Grumak Ternosh?”

The Demosk. The voice was inside his head again, but this time he could clearly hear it in his ears, too. Except the voice in his mind was speaking common and the voice in his ears was speaking orkish. The effect was strange and unsettling. Wister shifted his grip on the battle axe. Brisbane wondered again exactly what a Demosk was.

“A masokom,” Brisbane heard Ternosh say, “must be witnessed. Grum Wister has challenged Grum Brisbane.”

Brisbane’s head spun as a wisp of smoke flowed around it.

“I am ready,” the Demosk said.

Out of the corner of his smoke-irritated eye, Brisbane saw Sumak Tornestor rise to his feet again. Wister’s right foot took a half-step towards Brisbane and was slowly dragged back.

Here it comes, Brisbane. The evil must be vanquished.

“Begin!” Tornestor’s gravel voice boomed out over the pug-trolang and Wister seemed to fly at Brisbane, his shield held in front of him and the battle axe cocked back, ready to strike.

Brisbane stood his ground, watching the ork advance and the position of the weapon in his hand. Wister brought the axe down on Brisbane with deathly quickness, but Brisbane was able to shift to the ork’s side and deflect the blow with his shield.

The first clang of metal against metal was met with a rousing cheer from the orks assembled around the pit. Wister ran past Brisbane with his momentum and turned back when he was out of his attack range.

“I’m going to kill you, human!” the Grum shouted as he charged in and swung his axe sideways at Brisbane’s head.

Brisbane ducked easily under the sweeping strike and stabbed at Wister as his body turned a flank towards him. His blade glanced off the ork’s chainmail vest and left Wister uninjured. The ork brought the axe back in another sweeping arc, this one aimed at Brisbane’s midsection. Brisbane had plenty of time to back up and out of the path of the sharp blade and, as he did, a surprising realization came over him.

Wister was, quite simply, a terrible warrior. His attack was certainly ferocious, but it lacked any semblance of grace or finesse. The ork had no sort of practiced control over his weapon, he just madly swung it back and forth and up and down, hoping to hit his opponent and finish him off quickly. Surely if that axe blade did connect with Brisbane’s body, the combat would instantly be over, but the ork’s strikes were clumsy and repetitious, and Brisbane had no problem avoiding them.

Wister charged Brisbane again with a cry of rage and Brisbane easily rotated away from him, pushing the blow off his shield. The orks around the pit were cheering with every charge Wister made and they let out disappointed moans each time Brisbane thwarted the attack.

Wister was turning to charge again.

What’s the matter? Angelika’s voice tolled in his head, muted strangely by the effects of the incense smoke. He has left himself open to your blade many times. Why do you not strike him down?

“Die!” Wister screamed as Brisbane brushed off another charge and retreated back several steps.

He’s no warrior, Angelika.

Brisbane thought he was just thinking these words to his sword, but he must have said them aloud because Wister, who had been panting for breath, suddenly opened his eyes wide in senseless rage and jumped into another charge.

Of course not. Evil can never stand up against holy forces. End his unnatural life, Brisbane. Destroy this evil monster.

Brisbane pushed Wister’s charge aside and ineffectually struck his sword against the ork’s armor.

That’s the way, Brisbane. Go for the head. It is foolishly unprotected.

Angelika, this is not combat. It takes no skill to kill such an opponent.

Wister turned and stood panting out of Brisbane’s reach. Sweat was running down his pig face. Groans were beginning to come from the orks assembled around the pit—groans of displeasure. This was evidently not the sort of spectacle they had expected.

“…kill…you…human…” Wister said in between breaths in a mad litany of rage. He rushed into battle again but this time did not charge past Brisbane. Instead he stopped before him and began to engage in more traditional fighting.

This was much better than the crazy charges the ork had made before, but his attack was still unskilled and clumsy. Brisbane had no problem avoiding or deflecting the slow strikes of the battle axe. He could either dodge aside or absorb the impact on his shield and sometimes he could even foil an attack with the blade of his sword. Wister had left himself open to fatal attack many times, but each time he did, Brisbane found himself unable to take advantage of the opening. Occasionally, he would strike at Wister’s armor for show, knowing he would not hurt the ork that way. It was just hard for Brisbane to kill like this. The orks he had killed before had been somehow different. Their skill hadn’t been much better, but the circumstances had been very different. Then, he had been fighting to protect himself and the others in his party from a vicious attack begun by the orks. Now, it was a fight of honor, with rigid rules and customs, wholly different from the slaughter he had taken part in beside the Mystic River. It was hard for Brisbane to pinpoint, but this battle with Wister down here in the pug-trolang with the entire klatru watching was somehow more important than any battle he had ever fought before. It was important that he win this battle, but there was something else that seemed even more important. To strike Wister down so easily, like a rag doll, was far beneath what this kind of combat demanded. In a way, killing the ork with the ease of removing an opponent’s pawn from a chessboard would destroy the entire orkish institution of the masokom and the pug-trolang.

What do you care of this? They are evil. They are the enemy.

So I’ve been told.

Suddenly, Wister broke off his attack and stepped back and away from Brisbane. The ork looked up at the edge of the pit and Brisbane’s eyes followed his. The smoke from the burning incense was much thicker up there and through it Brisbane could make out the vague shapes of the other orks. The huge Tornestor at one end, the black-clad klatru lining the rim, and Ternosh with his glowing Demosk at the other. All were silent and seemed to be waiting for something.

Wister took a moment to catch his breath. He returned his gaze to Brisbane and quietly addressed the group. “He is toying with me,” the Grum said. “His skill far surpasses mine. I am no match for him. I declare myself the loser.”

With that statement, Wister dropped his shield and his axe on either side of himself and pulled his chainmail vest apart to reveal his hairy chest. “You have won, Grum Brisbane. Send me quickly to the army of Gruumsh One-Eye.” Wister closed his red eyes.

Brisbane was not sure what to do. Wister’s intention was obvious. He wanted Brisbane to plunge his sword into his heart, killing him. Wister had named him the winner, but now Brisbane felt like anything else but.

When Brisbane had not done anything for a full minute, Tornestor spoke. “Grum Brisbane, Grum Wister had conceded defeat. Will you not end the masokom?”

Brisbane kept his eyes on Wister. The ork had not moved or spoken since he had closed his eyes. Until Tornestor had spoken, Brisbane had thought all time had stopped.

“Must I?” Brisbane asked.


“It is your duty,” Tornestor said. “Grum Wister has lost his challenge. He cannot be left alive.”

Brisbane slowly raised his sword. He looked at it carefully. It really was a fine weapon, well cared for and perfectly balanced.

Do it, young Brisbane. It is your first step in regaining me. Do this and none of them will be able to stop you. I will be yours again. I will be yours.

The voice was like sweet music in his head. Deep and throaty, if Angelika had been a woman she would have been fair of face of voluptuous of figure. The voice was that of a secret harem girl, the one kept in hiding who could please her master like no other. Brisbane listened to that voice and realized he was reacting exactly as if she were a woman whispering wet promises of sexual ecstasy instead of a sword directing him to kill Wister. His heart was beating hard and fast and he could feel the beginnings of an erection in his underpants.

Brisbane thrust his sword into Wister’s chest and the ork dropped to the floor, his life flooding out of the wound. There was no release for Brisbane, the way there should have been if the metaphor of sexual congress was to be extended. There was no sense of victory in it. There was only a sinking feeling of disgust that quivered in his gut and pulled his testicles back up close to his body.

It is done. Praise Grecolus for his wisdom and Brisbane for his courage.

Shut up, Angelika. Just shut up.

“Grum Brisbane has defeated Grum Wister,” Brisbane heard the Demosk say. “Do you require anything else of me, Grumak Ternosh?”

Brisbane looked up at Ternosh and the pedestal.

“No,” Ternosh said.

Instantly, the figure of the Demosk vanished and the smoke stopped coming out of the vents. Brisbane went over to the side of the pug-trolang and he was hauled out by some of the black-clad orks. By then the smoke that had filled the room had almost completely dissipated. Slowly and silently, the orks began to file out of the chamber, leaving only Ternosh, Brisbane, and the body of Wister in the pit. The orks all avoided eye contact with Brisbane as they strode past him.

“What now?” Brisbane asked the Grumak.

Ternosh took the sword and shield away from Brisbane and began to help him off with the chainmail shirt. “You have won,” he said. “You now take Wister’s place in the clan. You are now my first Grum.”

Brisbane looked down into the pit. “I’m your only Grum.”

“What was that?” Ternosh asked.

Brisbane shook his head. “What about his body?”

“It will be removed later.”

“What did he mean?” Brisbane asked. “What is the army of Gruumsh One-Eye?”

Ternosh sighed as he helped Brisbane back into his robes. “Another time, Brisbane. It has been a very long day.”

Brisbane agreed it had been a very long day indeed.

Ternosh said goodnight and left Brisbane alone in the chamber. On his way out, the Grumak put the armor and weapon back in the racks against the wall.

Brisbane turned to look at Angelika leaning against the pedestal under the incense burner. He thought about going over there and taking her. He thought about taking her and trying to find his way out of these caves. He thought about taking her and fighting his way out, killing anyone who stood between him and the exit. He thought about taking her and fighting his way out of the compound, killing the orks and their guard dogs in a mad rush for freedom. He thought about all these things, but in the end he decided to leave Angelika where she was for now and go back to his chamber. Ternosh had been right, it had been a long day, and anything he thought about doing could certainly wait until tomorrow.

Brisbane quickly got out of there before Angelika started talking to him again.

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